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  • Harsh Kapoor
    South Asia Citizens Web 1 December 1999 ... #1. No alternative to talks #2. Distant Thoughts an a wedding and a funeral #3. New Turn To Sati Debate in India
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 30 3:22 PM
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      South Asia Citizens Web
      1 December 1999
      #1. No alternative to talks
      #2. Distant Thoughts an a wedding and a funeral
      #3. New Turn To 'Sati' Debate in India
      #4. Indigenous Peoples Occupy World Bank Premises in New Delhi

      DAWN 28 November 1999

      By Afzal Mahmood

      THE agreement between Indo-Pakistan border forces not to alter the status
      of working boundary and to put an immediate stop to firing across the
      border, followed by Prime Minister Vajpayee's statement that India is
      prepared for talks with the new government in Pakistan, are significant
      developments for the future of bilateral relations between the two
      estranged neighbours.

      Asian Age
      1 Dec. 1999

      By Tapti Roy
      A funeral and a wedding. Too distraught at the death of her husband, a
      woman jumps into the funeral pyre leaving the wider society to resolve if
      it had been an act of suicide or sati. Too distracted by the turn of
      recent events, a vengeful politician recites Urdu couplets, prompting
      efforts in the media, to determine if they signify a provocation or an
      outright threat. Between themselves, these two completely different
      episodes make a statement about India 52 years after Independence. It has
      been bothering me for some time. I am offering an undergraduate course on
      modern India to two groups of students, one belonging to the subcontinent
      and the other completely unfamiliar with the two nations. The task turned
      out to be harder than I thought it would. For it was one thing,
      introducing ancient India and the esoteric religion of the Vedas, followed
      by the invasions and emergence of large empires. It was quite another to
      describe 1947 and after. The hardest task for the teacher is to answer
      questions that the students pose outside of the text books. A teacher is
      immediately made aware of the margins of her own knowledge for the young
      mind that is not trapped in the groove of predictability will always prod
      her along paths her teachers or books had not indicated. In this instance,
      I was asked, whether Partition could have been avoided. In history, we
      have been taught never to anticipate something that has not taken place,
      never to pose a question beginning with if. But my students do not intend
      to major in the subject and having suffered the grind of dense lectures
      that spanned 3,000 years of the past, they legitimately asked a question
      that seemed most relevant. Since cultural reciprocity existing among the
      different communities on the subcontinent, divided otherwise by religion
      and language, was repeatedly stressed in class, it seemed natural for them
      to wonder why at the moment of freedom, the subcontinent was forced to
      undo its long past. It was my turn to ask the students who belonged to
      the subcontinent what their impression of the nations, India and Pakistan,
      was. They did not have to bat an eyelid to reply, widespread corruption
      and the inability of the leaders to deliver. Their observations seemed
      self-explanatory to all but those who are neither Pakistanis nor Indians.
      The hard task of putting together a comprehensive lecture rests with the
      teacher. Among ourselves, we decided to examine two phenomena: why
      democracy in Pakistan after more than 50 years has fallen victim to
      another military coup and one that the people hope will function since
      political parties have not; and why in India, the affirmation of a secular
      republic lies hopelessly challenged and threateningly close to being
      scrapped or at best rendered ineffective. These 50 years, we hoped, would
      allow us to comprehend 1947. In trying to put together disparate
      information, I was struck by the funeral and the wedding. A woman in the
      Mahoba district of Uttar Pradesh throws herself in the pyre of her dead
      husband while the people around, including her grownup son, do nothing to
      stop her. On the contrary, for many it was a moment of celebration of the
      Indian woman's devotion and adulation that she has to prove by dying in
      such a morbid fashion. It was the ultimate act of piety for the woman that
      her community wished to consecrate by setting up a temple. The provincial
      government intervened to forestall any permanent construction that would
      hallow the incident but past experience in India tends to suggest that
      this may well be a temporary measure. In the same province, on the
      occasion of a former chief minister's son's wedding a recently unseated
      patriarch spewed venom at the Prime Minister for depriving him of his much
      coveted chair. No human being admits his own faults, least of all Indian
      politicians who carry the act of finding scapegoats to an art. In this
      case, however, the outgoing incumbent Kalyan Singh makes a far more
      powerful statement. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has not kept its
      promise to the Hindus, of building the temple over the mosque in Ayodhya.
      He had to pay the price for his word of honour to the community. By now,
      the nation has learnt not to take the politicians who impose their
      presence and their nuisance on the people, seriously. But they have access
      to the nations' resources that are deployed in large proportions to
      maintain them perpetually and for generations. Politics has been turned a
      profession that one is born in or better still married into, something
      like the Indian caste system. Thus the Rabri Devis and Sonia Gandhis
      together with the sons and daughters waiting in the wings have come to
      determine the fate of millions they are least concerned about. Space does
      not allow me to talk at length about Pakistan but siphoning off the
      nation's funds by members of the ruling elite while the rest of the people
      grovel in misery and decay, tell a somewhat similar story. Despite
      Partition, the two nations share more than either would care to admit.
      Democracies in both have failed to privilege the citizens beyond their
      passports and their rights to choose politicians from a collective they
      trust the least. While Pakistan slips into military dictatorship, India
      slides back to the most dangerous form of majoritarianism. The civil
      societies rally around a fictitious past and an imagined tradition that
      rests on narrow sectarian beliefs. Therefore, while the woman dies in
      India as a sati another in Pakistan is killed by her family for wanting to
      divorce her husband. In both cases, the family and community are absolved
      of responsibilities on grounds of culture and beliefs. A wedding and a
      funeral, that is what I have to describe in class. Politicians in 1947
      could not decide upon the distribution of the spoils and preferred to
      fracture the nation, 50 years later, they fail to do any better. The
      stakes have increased and so have the squabbles, the only difference being
      that there are many more in the fray now. I can anticipate the next
      question. How did this hydra come to be born?

      29 November 1999

      By Praful Bidwai

      Three weeks after Charan Shah burned herself to death on the funeral pyre
      of her husband at Satpurva in Uttar Pradesh's Mahoba district, the sati
      debate refuses to die down. Indeed, it has taken a new turn, in two ways.
      There are contradictory claims about whether this was sati, or
      straightforward suicide by the 55-year-old Dalit woman. Secondly, there is
      a sharp dispute about the moral right of society and the state to regulate
      people's lives and customs. It is depressing that we have to discuss
      questions about the validity of widow burning at the turn of the
      millennium, and that the debate is on the verge of turning into
      NGO-bashing. The only redeeming feature of the situation is that there are
      more journalists scouting for information at Satpurva than people queuing
      up to offer prayers to sati mata.

      As regards the basic facts, it should be clear from reports of both the
      National Commission for Women's inquiry headed by former Chief Justice D.S.
      Tewatia, and the All India Democratic Womenís Association, as well as
      independent, responsible, media stories (e.g. in The Hindu), that Charan
      Shahís case was different from Roop Kanwarís 1987 immolation. There was no
      prior declaration of the self-immolation, nor ceremonies around the act.
      Charan Shah rushed headlong into her husband's pyre in her everyday
      clothes. She was not surrounded by a cheering crowd. The pyre was not laid
      at a vantage point, unlike for Roop Kanwar, where a memorial would later be
      built. However, it would be wrong to conclude from this that it was an
      ordinary case of "suicide", caused by acute depression at her husband's
      death amid the wretched poverty, backwardness and hopelessness that mark

      Regrettably, that is the inference not just of the local police, who would
      of course find it expedient, but of the NCW and AIDWA teams too. Justice
      Tewatia has even gone as far as to accuse the media of trying "to create a
      juicy story" and twisting facts in ìits desire to hit the headlinesî. But
      we should know from some excellent and sensitively written spot reports
      (e.g. Gargi Parsaiís in The Hindu) that Charan Shah's "suicide" was not
      really voluntary, i.e. free of coercion, however indirect and subtle.
      Decisions and "choices" such as hers are closely derived from religious
      folklore and myths built around the images of sati, of "pure" women
      "voluntarily" committing self-immolation.

      Such folklore is particularly powerful in Bundelkhand with its
      warrior-queen Lakshmibai of Jhansi, and (this needs emphasis) its female
      literacy rate of five per cent. It bears recalling that this is a
      wretchedly poor, arid region, without roads or health facilities worth the
      name. People there remain steeped in hierarchical feudal values,
      superstition and blind faith because they have nothing else to fall back
      on. There are three sati temples in the neighbourhood and several cases of
      widow immolation going back to 1896 through to 1964. Women virtually live
      in purdah and are excluded from public representation, even in village
      panchayats. If a woman is asked for her name, it is quite normal for her
      husband to give it.

      In such conditions, it makes no sense to attribute true agency, genuine
      freedom, or voluntary, conscious, choice to the most disempowered of women
      or to ignore the pivotal role of ideological, religious, physical or
      circumstantial coercion. Charan Shah's "suicide" was no more voluntary or
      free than the cases of sati studied by noted scholars such as Kumkum
      Sangari and Sudarshan Vaid in Rajasthan even prior to the Roop Kanwar
      episode. They found that ther was no "voluntary" widow immolation.
      Typically, it would be enforced by armed men. Nor will it do to obliterate
      factors like caste out of this the Rajput identity in Deorala and the
      terrible lives of Dalits at Satpurva, from which some try to escape through
      "purifying" rituals. It is immaterial whether Charan Shah's case involved
      all the rituals associated with full-scale sati or not. What should alarm
      us is that she was driven to take her life in that specific manner and in
      those circumstances. Sati is so horrifying an evil that even its shadow is

      "Suicide" apart, the Charan Shah episode has attracted adverse criticism
      from commentators like Ashis Nandy and Madhu Kishwar against feminists,
      social activists and concerned intellectuals who regard sati as barbaric
      and protest against its religious, social and political legitimation. Some
      critics direct special barbs at those who attack state inaction or
      complicity and feel distressed that the government and the local
      administration have not uttered a word against Charan's immolation. These
      critics advance three lines of argument. First, they say that the demand
      that the police take stringent action against the perpetrators and
      instigators of sati is misconceived. The emphasis should not be on law
      enforcement, but rather on gender-sensitive education and development.

      Secondly, they claim there is nothing specifically wrong with sati: it is
      one of many evils, a kind of murder, albeit one that is revered by the
      masses. Kishwar even goes to the length of saying: 'If you approve of
      polytheism, then people should have the right to choose their symbols of
      deification. In any case, deifying this woman is better than deifying mass
      murderers like Stalin. Third, they hold that the outrage against sati, if
      not from the early 19th century, under Ram Mohan Roy and Bentinck, then at
      least today, is essentially an urban middle class phenomenon. This class
      hates the masses, and wants to control their lives. It exhorts them to ìget
      more educated, to practise birth control, to be more nationalistic and less
      parochial.' The same class, however, indulges fans of other criminals, like
      Harshad Mehta.

      All three arguments are misconceived. Areas like Bundelkhand, of course,
      cry for gender-sensitive development and for minimal public services-most
      important, healthcare and education, which are absent today. But thatís not
      a substitute for firm state action against the men who instigate/force
      widows into self-immolation. Much of metropolitan crime too is rooted in
      desperate poverty in the hinterland, lack of social opportunities, and in
      anomie. But that does not mean we shouldnít tackle or punish crime, while
      addressing these long-term issues. Would these critics apply this bizarre
      argument to the case of middle class victims of robbery, assault and murder.

      Second, only a dangerous relativism can defend sati worship on grounds of
      polytheism. There are universal values, which must be treated as inviolate.
      Fundamental human rights, including the right to life and to human dignity,
      belong to this category. Some values are universal because human beings and
      human cognition are universal. Unless we respect universal rights, we
      cannot argue against large-scale murder, aghori cults, torture, even
      genocide. It is all very well for Nandy to say that "those showing respect
      to the satisthal are not applauding murder: they are applauding the idea of
      self-sacrifice and the rare human ability to transcend self-interest and
      fear of death". This despicably specious argument can legitimise all kinds
      of fanatical acts, done with "selfless" motives: Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot
      and Prabhakaran had many recruits who "selflessly" massacred or tortured

      Finally, it is not only (or mainly) the urban middle class which feels
      outraged by sati murder or widow immolation. Large numbers of very ordinary
      Indians do. To castigate voluntary initiatives in causes such as human
      rights, gender equality, social justice or environmental protection as
      ìmiddle classî because some of these movements originated in those strata
      is unpardonable. It amounts to condemning these causes themselves. The mere
      fact that Ms Medha Patkar has middle class origins does not doom the
      Narmada Bachao Andolan. It remains one of the worldís most powerful and
      forward-looking mass movements imaginatively focused on displacement,
      social equity, alternative energy planning and resource sharing. As it
      happens, most activist groups critical of sati murders also espouse a range
      of other noble causes, including balanced development, concern for the
      weak, equality of the sexes, and empowerment of women. They are not
      admirers or members of the Harshad Mehta and KPS Gill fan clubs, but their

      Carping against them is inspired by cheaply fashionable attitudes. These
      cover up monumental apathy and colossal indifference, and turn a blind eye
      to the prevalence of evil practices in our midst. Widow immolation is one
      of the most disgusting, if not the most repugnant and irredeemably immoral,
      among them. It denies that a woman has life, or the right to life, leave
      alone identity, outside of what is defined and given to by her husband.
      Widow immolation is barbaric. Sati, the ideology that legitimises it, is a
      disgrace. We must reject them as thoroughly, categorically, impermissible.

      We may differ with one another in what constitutes an ideal society or a
      good economic model. We certainly can have differences on how to reach such
      goals. But we cannot afford to be confused or ambivalent about elementary
      things like rooting out abominable, radical, evils. Sati is one of them. On
      sati, todayís citizens must be on the same side as Bentinck, Roy, Phule,
      Ambedkar and Periyar. If we want a minimally civilised society, we have no
      other choice.-end-
      Protest against the Destruction of Livelihoods and the Environment by the
      World Bank and the WTO

      More than 300 Adivasis [i.e. indigenous peoples] from the Indian state of
      Madya Pradesh, representing all mass-based Adivasi movements, jumped over
      the fence of the World Bank building on the 24th of November at 12:00. They
      blocked the building, covering it with posters, grafitti, cow shit and mud,
      sang slogans and traditional songs at the gate, and went back only after
      Mr. Lim, country director of the World Bank in India, went out to receive
      an open letter signed by all their movements.
      The attempts of the country director of the World Bank to deliver a speech
      were refused by the Adivasis, who said that after talking with World Bank
      officials for the last 5 years they had concluded that such 'dialogues' had
      the only objective of betraying, misleading and deceiving the Adivasis
      while pushing through commercial and industrial interests.

      Adivasi organisations in Madhya Pradesh have repeatedly denounced the
      highly destructive, so-called 'eco-development' programmes that the World
      Bank has been funding for the last five years in their forests. Those
      programmes involve the violent forced eviction of Adivasis from their lands
      (where all means of force were used, including several killings), which as
      so many other aspects of the 'eco-development' programmes of the WB goes
      against the Operational Directives of the Bank, as well as a remarkably
      awkward combination of bans on the activities on which Adivasis have based
      their livelihoods since milennia (shifting cultivation, fishing, extraction
      of forest produce, etc.) on 'environmental grounds', combined with the
      liberalisation of commercial activities to 'make conservation a good
      business'. A great business not for the Adivasis, but for the corrupt
      administrative system exploiting the forest and the commercial and
      industrial interests behind this sort of 'eco-development'. Hence, the
      Adivasi communities see themselves forced to buy in the market the products
      that they are not anymore allowed to extract from their forests.

      The other target of the action was the WTO regime, an increasingly
      important tool for the interests that are destroying the lives of
      indigenous peoples all over the world. The attempts to include in the WTO
      system a new agreement aimed at boosting timber extraction and trade were
      highlighted, and the Adivasis expressed their determination to fight
      against it.

      Pictures of the action will soon be available at the PGA website,
      (http://www.agp.org). [...]

      The name of the World Bank President is James D. Wolfensohn and his address
      is The World Bank, 1818 H Street, N.W., Washington, DC 20433 U.S.A. Please
      send copies of the letters to <sergio@...


      We, the tribal people of India, demand that the World Bank immediately stop
      its attempts to take over our forests. The Madhya Pradesh Forestry Project
      and other such projects only intensify the colonial takeover of our forests
      that began with British rule in our country. We fought the British and we
      will fight the new form of colonialism that you represent with all our

      For us the MPFP and other such projects have meant an increasing threat to
      our rights over our land, our rights to extraction of forest produce, the
      loss of our grazing lands our fishing rights. It has meant increasing
      violence against our people. It has deliberately attempted to foster
      conflicts among our people in the old colonial tradition of 'divide and
      rule'. It has endorsed rape in Hoshangabad, killings in Khandwa, the
      burning down of homes and fields in Mandla and Dindori, beatings,
      extortion, and criminal cases against our people when they have attempted
      to protect their rights and livelihood.

      You know nothing about our forest or about how we have lived in them for
      centuries. You did not even consult us before you devised the MPFP and
      other forestry projects. You have never bothered to ask us how we have been
      affected by your projects. But with unforgivable arrogance you are
      attempting to take away our rights over our forests on the grounds that it
      is we who are destroying the forests that are our home, our source of
      livelihood. Even though it is so well known that it is the commercial and
      industrial interests that you represent that have destroyed our forests.

      Our forests can only be saved by us, the people of the forests. You know
      that. That is why you talk of 'Joint Forest Management'. But your 'Joint
      Forest Management' is a sham-a ruse that you use to pretend that you have
      our consent when you wrest our forests from us.

      Your Operational Directives assure us that you will seek our consent and
      fully informed participation in your projects. They assure us that your
      projects will not affect us adversely. You have betrayed that promise and
      violated your own Operational Directives. You have repeatedly ignored our
      protests. We agreed to participate in a Joint Mission with you in this
      regard, but you abandoned the Mission when it became clear that your
      project has so seriously violated our rights.

      We know that in the Seattle Round of the WTO, there is a plan to hand over
      our forests to commercial and industrial interests. We will resist this
      too, with all our might. For the World Bank and the WTO, our forests are a
      marketable commodity. But for us, the forests are a home, our source of
      livelihood, the dwelling of our gods, the burial grounds of our ancestors,
      the inspiration of our culture. We do not need you to save our forests. We
      will not let you sell our forests. So go back from our forests and our

      On behalf of our people:

      * Ekta Parishad, Madhya Pradesh (M.P.) and Orissa * Adivasi Mukti
      Sangathan, M.P. * Shramik Adivasi Sangathan, M.P. * Kisan Adivasi
      Sangathan, M.P. * Jan Van Andolan, M.P. * Pench National Park Sangharsha
      Samiti, M.P. * Bandhavagash Rashtriya Udyan Sangharsha Sangathan, M.P. *
      Sanjay Rashtriya Udyan Sangharsha Samiti, M.P. * Sitanadi Abhayaranya
      Sangharsha Samiti, M.P. * Nagarhole Restoration Movement, Karnataka *
      Vikalpa, Uttar Pradesh (U.P.) * Mazdoor Morcha, U.P. * Ghat Kshetra Samiti,
      U.P. * Kalpavriksha, Delhi * Samajwadi Jan Parishad * Narmada Bachao
      Andolan * National Alliance of People's Movements * Centre for Law and the
      Environment, New Delhi * Coorg Organisation for Rural Development,
      Karnataka * Budakattu Krishikara Sangha, Karnataka


      The forestry projects funded by the World Bank and other international
      agencies are a part of a major conspiracy to take over our forests and deny
      the basic rights of tribals. In the last five years, forestry projects have
      been initiated in nearly all the states of India. The secretly planned $32
      billion National Forestry Action Plan would also be funded by international
      agencies. On the one hand, these forestry programmes are undertaken in the
      name of conserving forests, wildlife and the biodiversity and on the on the
      other hand in the Seattle round the same agencies plan to introduce a new
      agenda to open up native forests to logging and to weaken environmental
      protection in the interests of multinational companies. All this is a part
      of the destructive process of globalization which is driving tribals out of
      the forests and reducing their rights to them. These were the conclusions
      reached in the two day meeting on "Debt in the Forestry Sector: its Impact
      on the Forests, the Tribals and the Economy" organised by the mass and
      tribal organizations of Madhya Pradesh on 22nd and 23rd November, 1999. On
      24th November, a demonstration was organised against the World Bank at its
      Delhi office in which hundreds of tribals from Madhya Pradesh as well as
      other human rights activists registered their protest against the World
      Bank's interference in our forests. "World Bank go back" and "our forests
      belong to us" were some of the slogans through which the tribals expressed
      their anger against the World Bank. Ekta Parishad, Adivasi Mukti Sangathan,
      Shramik Adivasi Sangathan, Kisan Adivasi Sangathan, Narmada Bachao Andolan
      and other organizations participated in the demonstration. Besides these
      organizations from Madhya Pradesh, representatives from the National
      Alliance of People's Movements and organizations from Orissa. Bihar, Uttar
      Pradesh, Maharashtra and activists from Delhi also participated in the
      demonstration. The World Bank funded Madhya Pradesh Forestry Project was
      specially focussed upon. This massive project worth Rs. 800 crores is based
      on the unproven premise that in order to protect and conserve the forests
      the dependence of forests dwellers on them be reduced to the minimum. In
      reality such programmes are an attempt to separate tribals from the
      forests, a process beneficial to neither. The ongoing MPFP has violated the
      basic livelihood rights of tribals as well as the World Bank's own
      Operational Directive 4.20 in this regard. It has also increased atrocities
      on tribals. This is evident from the report of the joint mission of the
      representatives of the World Bank, the M.P. Forest department and the mass
      and tribal organizations of M.P. The sudden and unexplained withdrawal of
      the World Bank and the M.P. forest department from the mission in its final
      stages and the continuation of the MPFP without resolving the problems
      investigated by the mission has revealed the World bank's hypocrisy. The
      World Bank's oft-expressed concern for people's participation, joint forest
      management, transparency and tribal welfare have all proved to be a major
      farce. In the name of joint forest management the MPFP has led to serious
      village level conflict in line to the British policy of divide and rule.
      For the last five years the mass and tribal organizations of M.P. have
      raised their voices at all levels within the state against the Project, the
      present forest policy and atrocities against the tribal, but all in vain.
      We are now compelled to intensify our struggle in Delhi.

      Besides denying their basic rights to livelihood the project has led to an
      increase in atrocities among tribals. In Dainala village of the Gurungpur
      forest division of Khandwa district and at Katukia village of Bagli forest
      division of Devaas district, tribals have been shot dead by the forest
      department. In Mandla and Dindhori districts the hutments and crops of
      "primitive" Baiga tribals were burnt down and they were beaten and jailed.
      In Hoshnagabad district, a Ranger who repeatedly raped a tribal girl has
      not only not been punished but has been rewarded with a foreign trip under
      the MPFP. Harassment and criminal cases against tribals who attempt to
      protect their rights are common allover the state.

      At the WTO Seattle conference there is a plan to clear the way for
      exploitation of the forests by multinationals. There is a plan to grab the
      forests from the people of the third world countries and to entrap them in
      the form of the "globalization" which is detrimental to their basic
      interests but tribals and other forests dwellers as well as their
      representative organisation has pledged to fight the interference of the
      World Bank and other international agencies and their forests and unlike an
      elected government refuse to become pawns in their hands.

      SOUTH ASIA CITIZENS WEB DISPATCH is an informal, independent &
      non-profit citizens wire service run by South Asia Citizens Web
      (http://www.mnet.fr/aiindex) since1996.
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